Musk Oxen in Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella National Park, Norway

Musk ox safari in the Norwegian mountains

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

No, it is not related to the bison even though it looks an awful lot like it from where I stand in the middle of the Norwegian alpine tundra! Actually, it is more related to sheep and goats. The prehistoric-looking musk ox lives in the arctic regions of the world, and the only musk ox population in Norway roams the mountain slopes of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park where I am hiking with my passionate guide Jo Even Kolstad on a musk ox safari.

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Mother rhino with her calf by a waterhole at sunrise, South Africa

Rhino facts – all you need to know about rhinos [Africa’s Big 5 series]

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

All photographs taken in the wild & available in high definition upon request. All rights reserved.

I follow our trail guide in his tracks while scanning the bushes surrounding me in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi park in South Africa during an early morning bush walk. With three other wildlife enthusiasts, we are on a mission to spot some of the Big 5 and one of world’s most ancient mammals. Our safari guide seems to have picked up some tracks and signs of one of them… Under the rising sun, he snaps his fingers to signal us to stop walking, while pointing out three majestic white rhinos close to a small waterhole, only 200 metres away from our small group. For a few magical moments, the sound of the shutters of our cameras competes with the singing of the birds and the loud and ungracious honking of a couple of Nile Geese fiercely guarding their precious body of water. “Please, do not post your photos on social media with the exact location of any rhinoceros”, our field guide urges us with a solemn voice. Poachers are a very serious threat and all means are good for them to locate these prehistoric animals for their horns that sell for a fortune on the black market in order to feed the unsatiable Chinese and Vietnamese demand.

In this series of five articles, we feature the Big 5 (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos) – Africa’s most dangerous mammals to encounter on foot in the wild. Keep reading to learn more about rhinos…

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen showing a photo to EcoTracker instructor Norman Chauke in the African bush

In the tracks of wildlife in Africa

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

The three lobes are very distinct. The leading edge of the main pad is flat. I orientate my flashlight to have a better view: the four toes are nicely rounded. There is no doubt: this footprint was left by a young male lion, only a few hours ago. I stand up, and look at my dome tent, barely two metres (6 feet) away. As the sun rises over the South African bush, the sky turns red orange, and the spoors are better lit. I switch off the torch and turn back to the soft sand: next to this track, I can identify some others, amongst which the ones of a lioness with their pointy leading edges lit by the few sun rays at dawn. The way the spoors are positioned tells me that this pride of lions was casually walking through the EcoTraining Camp in the Selati Game Reserve while I was half asleep. The alarm call of the troop of baboons, the sound of the herd of impalas running, the hardly palpable changes in the air and the scuffing in the sand that I heard during the night now all make sense. I do not know what I am amazed by the most: the proximity with these lions or the amount of practical knowledge I have gained during a week immersed in the wild living my most intense safari experience to this date…

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Up close and personal with rhinos

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The cold water of the rain shower feels good: it has been a long drive with the very last stretch on a hilly rough dirt road in the burning sun before we eventually arrived at the lodge. As I am contemplating the view on the endless rolling hills in my favourite wilderness of South Africa from the shower, I am startled. I jump out onto the large outdoor private deck of our villa and with my hands – and everything else for that matter – still wet, I grab my binoculars: “rhinos!” I observe three of these prehistoric animals with their so coveted horns roaming the opposite green slope: a calf which I estimate no older than a few months, its mother and another white rhino that could be the calf’s older sibling. I feel extremely privileged to witness this scene as their numbers are dangerously plummeting and rhinos are on the verge of extinction, being poached to feed the insatiable Chinese market. For sure, the Isibindi Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge that sits at the edge of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi game reserve in Kwazulu Natal, is well named! If the head of Isibindi Africa Trails, Nunu Jobe, is as pertinently nicknamed, I hardly dare imagining what a walk in the African bush with the “Rhino Whisperer” holds for me…

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Close up on a pair of African Penguins grooming on Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

Unique: Swimming with penguins [Boulders Beach, Cape Town]

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Sheltered from the winds by gigantic 540-million-year-old granite rocks, Boulders Beach is a local’s favourite for its low waves and slightly warmer water temperatures compared to the frigid yet popular Camps Bay and Clifton beaches in the heart of Cape Town. There is something more that attracts beach goers to this picturesque shoreline: it is the only place in the world where one can swim with South Africa’s most unexpected residents: jackass penguins!

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A lioness and her cub, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

The Lion King: the circle of death [exploited to the bone]

Article updated on May 26, 2021
Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen (except if credited differently)

“Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion,
the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
African proverb

Between the release of Disney’s The Lion King 25 years ago until its new photo-realistic computer-animated version of 2021 our planet has lost half of its wild lion population. Half…! If the main reason is habitat loss, it is not the only one why lions are in an alarming state. Other causes are ego for the hunters, greed for the farming, canned lion, and bone trade industries and maybe even worse, a lack of critical sense for some of us often with the best intentions.

Keep reading…

Hawksbill surfacing for air, Kelonia, Reunion Island

Diving with turtles in Réunion

Réunion Island is not only a mountainous paradise. Bathed by the Indian Ocean, its warm waters are home to many species including endangered sea turtles. Dipping your head into the turquoise waters of the lagoon will make you feel like you plunge into a colorful aquarium. Get deeper and SCUBA dive to get up close and personal with its diverse marine life and especially its fascinating sea turtles.

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Portrait of a wild cheetah in its natural environment of green grass in the Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

The ultimate ethical safari experience: &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve

It is getting dark fast now the sun has set. A jackal scurries on the African soil that is still warm after a hot summer day. Crickets tune in forming a loud orchestra while bright stars start decorating the sky, one by one. Agile nightjars catch moths and other insects in the faint headlights of the open Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4 safari truck in which we are seated. A woollen blanket keeps my legs warm while I tuck away my Canon camera after capturing some of Africa’s most emblematic animals. I am keeping an eye out for leopards, bush-babies, genets, and other nocturnal animals which eyes would lit up in the respectful infrared light that our tracker moves up and down the trees. Suddenly, Keep travelling!

People taking a photo of a teenage elephant showing off in front of a game drive vehicle in the bush.

How to select the best game park for your safari in South Africa?

For many, a safari is a dream trip, often a once in a lifetime experience. This is why it is important to select the type of safari and game park carefully to avoid any disappointment. South Africa is one of the best countries in the world to observe wildlife in beautiful and varied landscapes showcased in its two main types of parks: government-run parks and private game reserves. The offer is so vast and prices so high that we have put together some thoughts in order to help you select the safari that is the most adapted to you.

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The best of Kosi Bay in 4 unique adventures

One of South Africa’s most remote destinations may very well be the North Eastern corner of Kwazulu Natal. Bordering Swaziland and Mozambique lies a hardly populated land with scenic yet less famous game parks and a unique ecosystem of four lakes where Tsonga fishermen have passed down their sustainable traditions for more than a thousand years. A land where world’s largest leafs can be found, with rare bird species and different types of mangrove trees. Waters with bull sharks, hippos, manta rays, and whale sharks border South Africa’s most stunning and desolated beaches, on which the only visitors are endangered sea turtles laying their eggs in season.

Join us to explore the best of Kosi Bay in 4 different adventures! Keep travelling!

Funny quiz: Test your knowledge about our creepy crawlers!

Costa Rica was the first country to realize the value of its biodiversity for the planet, and its economy has been converted into a green economy, promoting eco-tourism. As such, the butterfly garden of Monteverde aims at educating the public about the fascinating world of insects before admiring butterflies in four different gardens representing different climates.

Try to take this short quiz and discover some fascinating fact about creepy crawlers! Keep guessing!

How Panama changed the world

The colourful roof of Panama’s Biomuseo designed by the world-famous architect Frank Gehry rises above the horizon of the Amador Causeway. Located along the entrance of the Panama Canal, the causeway used to be owned by the USA and was left barren after Panama regained its territory on 31 December 1999. Frank Gehry’s Panamanian wife took part in the discussions about what to do with the land, and soon crucial decisions were made to build the extravagant Biomuseo. Keep traveling!